News

Stanford dismisses lawyer following criticisms in New York Times story

University cites attorney's 'lack of confidence' in adjudication process

Stanford University has dismissed an attorney it retained to represent students in sexual-assault cases after she publicly criticized the university’s adjudication process in a New York Times story.

Crystal Riggins of San Jose-based firm Hoge Fenton was one of six approved attorneys Stanford brought on to support students, both accusers and accused, in Title IX cases under a new pilot adjudication process launched last February. Under the process, a panel of three panelists must unanimously agree to find a student responsible of sexual assault.

A Dec. 29 New York Times story examining this process through the lens of one alleged-rape case quoted Riggins, who described the process as "complex" and difficult, particularly for sexual-assault victims, whom she represents.

"It is very difficult to get a 3-0 decision from a panel, and these young women are terrified and traumatized and just want it to be done," she told the New York Times.

On Jan. 31, Riggins received a letter from Lauren Schoenthaler, former senior counsel and now senior associate vice provost for institutional equity and access for the university, notifying her that effective the next day, she was no longer a “Stanford-sponsored Title IX attorney" because of the comments she had made in the New York Times story, the newspaper reported this week. Schoenthaler called her comments "disappointing," the New York Times story states.

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"Given your stated lack of confidence, it does not make sense for the university to continue to refer our students to you," wrote Schoenthaler, who helped develop Stanford's Title IX process.

Riggins told the Weekly Friday that she stands by her comments in the New York Times article, which she acknowledged were "critical," but did not amount to a lack of confidence in Stanford nor its Title IX process.

"For complaining students (accusers), knowing that they have to get everyone to believe them, essentially — that comes into play in how you're evaluating a case and how you're advising clients," she said. "That's my job."

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said Riggins was let go as an approved attorney out of "fairness" for students, not as retaliation for her public criticisms.

"This is not retaliation and it's not a free-speech issue," she added. "It's an issue of fairness for our students."

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Schoenthaler's letter also included a link for Riggins to provide feedback on the Title IX process to an advisory committee on sexual assault policies, which she said she did. In a memo sent to the group this week, she expressed concern that the list of available attorneys will now "disadvantage complaining students" and strongly recommended Stanford "immediately add attorneys with experience representing complaining students to the list," according to the New York Times.

Riggins said she has only ever represented student-victims at Stanford. Lapin said that the university allows this group of attorneys to decide whether they want to represent accusers, accused or both.

Stanford's pilot adjudication process provides students on both sides with up to nine hours of free counsel from a list of local attorneys. Lapin said the university is working to train additional lawyers and plans to soon add four new attorneys to that list.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, an outspoken critic of Stanford’s handling of sexual violence, called Riggins' removal "disturbing" and worried it could have a chilling effect on lawyers who represent sexual-assault survivors.

"A lawyer is required to maintain independence of judgment regardless of who is paying the bill," she said. "The concern is that lawyers will feel pressure to tone down their advocacy in order to avoid upsetting the university especially if they have other cases that are ongoing in the system."

When asked for her response to this criticism, Lapin said that this "is not a concern."

Riggins said she will continue to represent Stanford students in two pending cases. She also represents students in Title IX cases at other local universities, she said.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to capture ongoing coverage of sexual-assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.

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Stanford dismisses lawyer following criticisms in New York Times story

University cites attorney's 'lack of confidence' in adjudication process

by / Palo Alto Weekly

Uploaded: Sat, Feb 11, 2017, 8:29 am
Updated: Mon, Feb 13, 2017, 8:42 am

Stanford University has dismissed an attorney it retained to represent students in sexual-assault cases after she publicly criticized the university’s adjudication process in a New York Times story.

Crystal Riggins of San Jose-based firm Hoge Fenton was one of six approved attorneys Stanford brought on to support students, both accusers and accused, in Title IX cases under a new pilot adjudication process launched last February. Under the process, a panel of three panelists must unanimously agree to find a student responsible of sexual assault.

A Dec. 29 New York Times story examining this process through the lens of one alleged-rape case quoted Riggins, who described the process as "complex" and difficult, particularly for sexual-assault victims, whom she represents.

"It is very difficult to get a 3-0 decision from a panel, and these young women are terrified and traumatized and just want it to be done," she told the New York Times.

On Jan. 31, Riggins received a letter from Lauren Schoenthaler, former senior counsel and now senior associate vice provost for institutional equity and access for the university, notifying her that effective the next day, she was no longer a “Stanford-sponsored Title IX attorney" because of the comments she had made in the New York Times story, the newspaper reported this week. Schoenthaler called her comments "disappointing," the New York Times story states.

"Given your stated lack of confidence, it does not make sense for the university to continue to refer our students to you," wrote Schoenthaler, who helped develop Stanford's Title IX process.

Riggins told the Weekly Friday that she stands by her comments in the New York Times article, which she acknowledged were "critical," but did not amount to a lack of confidence in Stanford nor its Title IX process.

"For complaining students (accusers), knowing that they have to get everyone to believe them, essentially — that comes into play in how you're evaluating a case and how you're advising clients," she said. "That's my job."

Stanford spokeswoman Lisa Lapin said Riggins was let go as an approved attorney out of "fairness" for students, not as retaliation for her public criticisms.

"This is not retaliation and it's not a free-speech issue," she added. "It's an issue of fairness for our students."

Schoenthaler's letter also included a link for Riggins to provide feedback on the Title IX process to an advisory committee on sexual assault policies, which she said she did. In a memo sent to the group this week, she expressed concern that the list of available attorneys will now "disadvantage complaining students" and strongly recommended Stanford "immediately add attorneys with experience representing complaining students to the list," according to the New York Times.

Riggins said she has only ever represented student-victims at Stanford. Lapin said that the university allows this group of attorneys to decide whether they want to represent accusers, accused or both.

Stanford's pilot adjudication process provides students on both sides with up to nine hours of free counsel from a list of local attorneys. Lapin said the university is working to train additional lawyers and plans to soon add four new attorneys to that list.

Stanford law professor Michele Dauber, an outspoken critic of Stanford’s handling of sexual violence, called Riggins' removal "disturbing" and worried it could have a chilling effect on lawyers who represent sexual-assault survivors.

"A lawyer is required to maintain independence of judgment regardless of who is paying the bill," she said. "The concern is that lawyers will feel pressure to tone down their advocacy in order to avoid upsetting the university especially if they have other cases that are ongoing in the system."

When asked for her response to this criticism, Lapin said that this "is not a concern."

Riggins said she will continue to represent Stanford students in two pending cases. She also represents students in Title IX cases at other local universities, she said.

The Palo Alto Weekly has created a Storify page to capture ongoing coverage of sexual-assault issues at Stanford University. To view it, go to storify.com/paloaltoweekly.

Comments

Worried Stanford Mom
College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2017 at 1:25 pm
Worried Stanford Mom, College Terrace
on Feb 11, 2017 at 1:25 pm
44 people like this

I am really worried about the safety of my daughter on this campus. It seems as if Stanford really does put its reputation above student safety. If they are firing this lawyer for those really mild comments in the NYT, it makes you wonder what Stanford is hiding and covering up. This is not normal. Thanks to Crystal Riggins for giving so much of your time to Stanford students and it is disgusting that they treated you this way. #NoGoodDeed


Parent
Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2017 at 1:45 pm
Parent, Adobe-Meadow
on Feb 11, 2017 at 1:45 pm
37 people like this

I am shocked by Stanford's actions on this. They have a serious problem there, and it can't help but hurt their students and their community. Please, Stanford, admit you have a problem and get help.


Jane Gill
Professorville
on Feb 12, 2017 at 7:55 am
Jane Gill, Professorville
on Feb 12, 2017 at 7:55 am
32 people like this


It continues to baffle me why Stanford (and other universities) are even still in the business of adjudicating sex assault complaints.

These are serious matters and should be dealt with by civil authorities. This is for the protection of both plaintiffs and defendants.

Perhaps matters will change when the Department of Education rescinds its ill-advised 2011 "Dear Colleague" to colleges.


Caroline V.
Portola Valley
on Feb 13, 2017 at 11:35 am
Caroline V., Portola Valley
on Feb 13, 2017 at 11:35 am
Like this comment

[Post removed.]


PA Grandma
Fairmeadow
on Feb 13, 2017 at 1:09 pm
PA Grandma, Fairmeadow
on Feb 13, 2017 at 1:09 pm
13 people like this

Hmmmm . . . I believe, although I could be wrong, that the case referred to in the NYT was one in which the accused rapist was allowed to continue at Stanford even though several rape accusations were lodged against him. I find that totally reprehensible. He should have been suspended and told to leave campus until the charges were either substantiated or dismissed. Stanford should have a "no rape" policy in place. And to fire a lawyer who expressed reservations about the slant of the lawyers on Stanford's "approved" list.

Stanford should immediately provide documentation that the lawyers on that list have experience with such cases and rape victims and are completely impartial. Until then, in my book the University is suspect. Is it or is it not biased in its handling of sexual assault cases? If it is biased or appears to be, the handling of such cases should be taken out of its hands and taken over by local law enforcement.


No Way to Go
Midtown
on Feb 13, 2017 at 1:28 pm
No Way to Go, Midtown
on Feb 13, 2017 at 1:28 pm
21 people like this

Fewer and fewer parents of young women are allowing them to even APPLY to Stanford any longer, for the very reasons above!


Mercy
another community
on Feb 13, 2017 at 2:19 pm
Mercy, another community
on Feb 13, 2017 at 2:19 pm
13 people like this

This is nuts, Stanford. If she were representing accused students as well as accusers, it would make sense. If she's only representing accusers, it really looks like retaliation.

Grandma, accused students have rights, and we know there are some sick people who make false accusations. Banning a person from campus based on an unsupported allegation gives the messed up people of this world an awful lot of power. Do we do that for other crimes?


Observer
Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2017 at 2:23 pm
Observer, Old Palo Alto
on Feb 13, 2017 at 2:23 pm
12 people like this

I'm no great friend of Stanford, but this article ill-characterized Riggins' comments to the NYTimes in a way that treats the university most unfairly. In addition to the anodyne descriptions of the process as "complex" and difficult for "traumatized" accusers, Riggins' NYTimes comments implicitly accused Stanford of failing in its responsibilities:

“It is frustrating because universities should be getting this right, and they are not," Riggins said to the Times, "and the idea that they can keep pushing this under the rug doesn’t make the campus any safer, as we keep seeing as these incidents come to light.” That's a harsh accusation of Stanford for unfairly rigging the process while also hinting at some vague cover up. How can Riggins argue her comments don't imply a lack of confidence in the process?

Of course, there's a crude logic to participating in a contest, while simultaneously insisting it's rigged against you. It worked beautifully for Donald Trump.

I can only wish more voters had reacted with the discernment and resolve Stanford showed in removing Riggins, who was after all retained to represent possible assault victims. She can't be expected to do that if she believes the process is rigged against her and the university sitting in judgment just wishes the entire subject would just go away.


How do you know?
Stanford
on Feb 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm
How do you know?, Stanford
on Feb 13, 2017 at 4:16 pm
11 people like this

No way to go-- this is not the first thread that you have made the comment about parents not allowing their daughters to apply to Stanford. I would ask you how you know this. Are you with the Stanford admission department? Have you conducted a country wide survey of women applying for college? Just curious how you are able to make such a statement.


Oooooooh
Midtown
on Feb 13, 2017 at 5:47 pm
Oooooooh, Midtown
on Feb 13, 2017 at 5:47 pm
14 people like this

I should think anyone who has a near college-age daughter and speaks to other parents with near college-age daughters would be discussing which colleges have the most violent attacks on young women--as well as which colleges do not prosecute offenders appropriately.

Not to mention that the last two years this subject has appeared in the WSJ, Washington Post, NYT, etc.

Stanford and PAUSD high schools have been held up as examples of how NOT to handle crises that arise!


parent
another community
on Feb 13, 2017 at 6:38 pm
parent, another community
on Feb 13, 2017 at 6:38 pm
Like this comment

Following is Stanford's response posted at their site:

Web Link

Did Stanford not renew one of these attorneys because she criticized the process publicly?

No. She was not invited to continue as one of the referral attorneys in the pilot process, because of her fatalistic attitude that she could not get good results for her clients in the process, which is not fair to our students. Additionally, there were other concerns about her work that have been expressed privately to the attorney, and are unrelated to her comments to the New York Times. The decision not to invite the attorney to participate in the second year of the pilot was taken after consultation, including with personnel outside of my organization whose regular responsibilities involve supporting complainants and survivors. To the extent that email excerpts provided to the New York Times suggest that the decision involved anything other than complainants’ best interests, that is a function of my less-than-artful drafting of the email.

I apologize to the Stanford community for leaving the impression that we are not open to criticism of our process. We can only make improvements through critical review and robust discussion. In fact, the group of referring attorneys was asked to and are continuing to provide feedback on how to improve the process.


Concerned parent
Los Altos Hills
on Feb 13, 2017 at 8:36 pm
Concerned parent , Los Altos Hills
on Feb 13, 2017 at 8:36 pm
1 person likes this

We have two college-age daughters and one near college-age. I subscribe to the Times, Post, and WSJ so I have read the articles to which another commenter alludes above (including the scurrilous ones about UVa based on the Rolling Stone article). Which colleges have the most attacks on women and the nature of the various colleges' responses to allegations of assault are not even on the radar as factors for our daughters in their choice of a college or university. Indeed, the latter aspect (how colleges respond to allegations) is of greater concern with respect to our sons' respective choices. Guilty until proven innocent is un-American and leads to poor results, as well.


M
Professorville
on Feb 14, 2017 at 5:11 pm
M, Professorville
on Feb 14, 2017 at 5:11 pm
3 people like this

It is amazing how quickly people react to condemn Stanford even though they don't even have all the facts!


I KNOW!
Old Palo Alto

on Feb 14, 2017 at 6:48 pm
Name hidden, Old Palo Alto

on Feb 14, 2017 at 6:48 pm

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Donata
Professorville
on Feb 15, 2017 at 6:37 pm
Donata , Professorville
on Feb 15, 2017 at 6:37 pm
4 people like this

My brother has absolutely FORBIDEN his daughter to apply to either Stanford or Berkeley for law school due to the unsafe circumstances.

He has also forbidden his son to apply to either of those schools as an undergraduate, simply due to the culture of those schools-- coupled with the fact that the boy wants to join a fraternity.

My husband's sister has forbidden her son to go to Duke, U of Virginia, UC Santa Barbara, UC San Diego, or Stanford for the simple fact of their toxic cultures and misogyny that she doesn't want him to pick up!

My cousin who teaches at Tokyo University, has forbidden his daughters to go to any college in Japan, including the one he teaches at. The only school in California he will allow them to apply to is Pepperdine, a Catholic university! He has given them the choices of U of Michigan, Tufts, Johns Hopkins, Boston U, Northwestern, Yale, or Princeton. He has researched this for the last two years, so Stanford is near the top of schools he is steering clear of-- along with most schools in the Midwest or South. Texas is off-limits as well.

I have a grown son, who went to Boulder, CO-- we did not approve of most schools in CA. If I had a daughter, I doubt that Zoe would allow Stanford or any other school in CA for her, either!


resident
Charleston Meadows
on Feb 16, 2017 at 12:07 pm
resident, Charleston Meadows
on Feb 16, 2017 at 12:07 pm
Like this comment

Hate to mention this but there may be some less than objective decisions on these matters if the student is the child of a former student/ parent that has donated to the university. Or the parent is a well known person who cannot afford any negative publicity and then donates to the university. There may be many layers here in the decision making. The previous situation of rape was a national event which they may not want to duplicate at this time. Always - "Follow the Money".


Been There
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2017 at 3:10 pm
Been There, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2017 at 3:10 pm
Like this comment

@Donata,

I was at CU-Boulder during the 2000s when there was a major sexual assault case involving members of the football team. It went on for years, and the case was not resolved by the time I left. It was sad in that the female accuser's father died before the case was resolved, if it was ever resolved adequately (I did not follow up with the story after leaving the school). I thought I would add this, not to taint CU, but to underscore that CU (or any school) might not be as safe as we would like to believe.

That said, I do think CU has tried to become more responsive and accountable in recent years, possibly as a result of the well-publicized sexual assault case there in the previous decade. Colorado has seemed to want to develop a more accurate survey of students in order to get a clearer picture of sexual assault and related issues. From what I remember reading, the university was able to devise an approach that enabled many students--perhaps more than at most universities--to respond. I think the university also refused federal funding in order to distribute a self-designed survey that would yield more information than the one(s) federally issued or outlined. Colorado's sexual-assault study team seemed to recognize that they might be alarmed by what they would find out, but they didn't let that stop them from reaching for answers and even some ugly truths. It would be great if more universities took the same approach.


Been There
Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2017 at 3:32 pm
Been There, Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Feb 16, 2017 at 3:32 pm
1 person likes this

Local newspaper story about Colorado's student survey:
Web Link


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